Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Revelation and Reason

Working on a talk this week for a Christology course, I am reading up on Arius, taking up the modern master, Professor Rowan Williams and his book Arius: Heresy and Tradition. A post or two will flow from this work. In the meantime, here is a thought: reason in Anglican terms does not stand alone or apart from Scripture and tradition. What are Scripture and tradition in relation to truth? They are revelation (God speaking to us) combined with accumulating reason in which the church clarifies what it is hearing from God, using minds created by God and renewed by the Spirit (Romans 12:1-2). In sum, the trifecta Scripture, tradition and reason are a duality, revelation and reason.

What was going on in the Arian controversy? The church was reasoning its way to the truth revealed to it. Arian took a line of reasoning which the church judged to be false, both in the light of reason (Arian's logic re the Logos was faulty) and in respect of revelation. The history of Nicea through to Chalcedon is a lesson in revelation and reason being held together, each informing the other, the conclusion reached being impossible without revelation. The key to knowing that the reasoning of the church led in the right direction is that revelation was coherent with the outcome.

You may or may not see where this is heading if we fast forward to our time and our troubles. More later.


Father Ron Smith said...

" In sum, the trifecta Scripture, tradition and reason are a duality, revelation and reason." - Peter C. -

Not forgetting of course that "The Holy Spirit is searching the mind of God" - apparently, even as we speak.

Revelation did not end with the writing of the scriptures- much as some would like this to be the whole truth.

Ascension Greetings, Ron.

Peter Carrell said...

I have never understood, Ron, why I have not been chosen as one of the prophets of the continuing revelation. I had thought the Spirit was leading me to explore and mine the depths of the closed revelation found in Scripture, but I could have gotten that guidance wrong :)

Father Ron Smith said...

No, Peter. You have probably been chosen to reveal what has happened in the past. That is why you may find it more difficult to switch to the future. You've been so busy mining - with head down - the Scriptures, that the Wind of the Spirit may just has 'went by' while you had your head down.

Only joking Peter, but you have some idea of what I'm talking about

Peter Carrell said...

Don't worry, Ron, a lot of things go over my head!

Bryden Black said...

I hope, Peter, you will not be sucked into the relatively recent rebranding of Anglicanism, as quintessentially the integration of Scripture, Tradition and Reason! Sure; one might be persuaded this was the best description of our apparent ‘ethos’ when confronted by the likes of the Festschrift to RPC Hanson, that esteemed retired academic and bishop - Scripture, Tradition and Reason: a study in the criteria of Christian doctrine (1998), eds Richard Bauckham & Ben Drewery. The Preface is clear: “The issue ... is that of the relationship between Scripture, Tradition and Reason (emphasis original). It is not difficult to agree we need to listen to all three. The real problem is how the respective claims of these three authorities relate to each other.” Already the dice are loaded with the use of the word “authority” applied to each; already one is set upon the “problem’s” articulation in a given way, viewing them, reason and tradition, as if “dispersed, secondary, but coordinate principles of authority” (Greer). Mmmm...??!

Far more insightful is the essay of Rowan Greer, retired patristic scholar and self-confessed “more liberal” Episcopalian: Anglican Approaches to Scripture: From the Reformation to the Present (2006). [Ken Booth reviewed it in Taonga, giving it the thumbs up, a few years ago.] Firstly, he notes, “the triple cord - or the ‘three legged stool’ - seems to have become something of a shibboleth in current Anglican thinking. I should not wish to dismiss the idea altogether ...” He will trace traces of it historically. But then he “conclude[s] that the idea [of the threefold cord] is less helpful than might be supposed/than it appears and that it proves impossible to argue that Hooker’s views really illustrate it or that the Caroline divines after Hooker follow his views.” Blunt; succinct; and to the point. There’s a far more interesting and complex story to be told than those who ... well; never mind!

Most helpful (IMHO) in this necessary yet tricky ‘play’ is the collection of papers from the colloquia, published as Reason and The Reasons of Faith (T&T Clark, 2005), eds Paul Griffiths & Reinhard Hütter, hosted at the Princeton Center of Theological Inquiry between 2000 & 2003. Here we really get down to brass tacks, displaying the role(s) of reason down the centuries, noting its marred and checkered pathway(s), and how various traditions have attempted to approach the Word of God and divine revelation. It’s a humbling read. Not least as it reveals the very thing I highlighted in another thread: that “plausibility structures” and our “available believables” are more often than not what really undergird our human opinions. Arius was just such a man. His ‘god’, derived from classical Hellenistic tradition, was deemed incompatible with the God and Father of Jesus Christ; the two were simply incommensurate. So which would gave way to which?! The subtitle RDW chose is the giveaway: “heresy and tradition”. Yet who espouses which?!

So the real questions circle around how to humanly acknowledge the due weight of God’s revelation, through the Incarnate Word and in the Spirit, as uniquely and specifically attested to in Holy Writ. For any claims to “revelation” - by a Joachim of Fiore or a Griswold or KJS - have only one bar, those canonical writings recognized by the Church. Their interpretation is never de novo: folk have been at it a while now! Nor are our own reasoning powers granted trumping status: we ever only “stand on the shoulders of giants” (John of Salisbury) - who furthermore were not entangled in the snares of either Enlightenment prejudice or postmodern scepticism, even nihilism.

Continue to enjoy the teasing story of the homoousion, of how “as a piece of trinitarian language, hypostasis is merely an item of linguistic debris knocked from Hellenistic philosophy by collision with Yahweh” (Robert Jenson).

James said...

Thank you, Peter. I greatly look forward to hearing from you about these things because, as you know, Christology in the Communion is - as some here have put it - "my hobby horse" - I can think of no greater earthly cause in this moment of history than shedding light upon (and rectifying) our Communion's crisis in Christology. As I'm convinced that we, the world's largest protestant body, have hit a level and kind of apostasy as unseen in the last 1,500 years. So, like it or not, your work on Christology will be in some manner "historic," and will likely have consequences beyond what you expect.

This has its eternal value, as we in all times must bear witness to Christ's glory (which entails those aspects of His person which are so important for us and our salvation). But at this time especially:

- it can save us from the trauma of schism (at least amongst those of us who value Trinitarian Christianity - including those who value it abstractly, but whose faith needs yet to unfold)

- it can save a large segment of us from the perils of bringing another gospel into the church, anathema, and the worldly consequences that tend to accompany this - as we've seen with the Arians, the Cathars, etc..

- it can prevent those churches whose faith is weak from following the sorry example of the world's largest Protestant body.

- it can help bring healing to Anglicans

- and the sooner that healing occurs, the more likely our historic witness in emphasizing responsible scholarship, responsible hermeneutics, liturgy and liturgical-style worship, and ecumenism can be recovered, so churches who take Christ seriously (the ones that are growing) are also more likely to pay heed to the importance of these things - loosening the grip of those things we tend to associate with fundamentalism and sectarianism. As, in our present course, we are very surely contributing more indirectly to fundamentalism and sectarianism than having any effective, constructive critical influence; and provoking fear of scholarship and liturgy in general, and ecumenism (I see this very clearly in a church I regularly visit).

You will be in my prayers.

Peter Carrell said...

Bryden and James, you are my unpaid research assistants. Thank you.

Bryden Black said...

Who said I was “unpaid”?! The next bottle of red’s on you - even if the steer’s rump’s on me!

Father Ron Smith said...

"Far more insightful is the essay of Rowan Greer, retired patristic scholar and self-confessed “more liberal” Episcopalian:"
- Bryden Black -

Yet another didactic certitude from B.B. I only wish I could be as self-assured as you, Bryden, that I was 'right every time'. Some of us have to live with our imperfections which don't allow us to pronounce dogmatically the validity of other people's 'insights' - we have enough trouble with our own.

All I know, on the subject you are concerned about (mainly), is that I trust +++Rowan Williams' integrity about 'The Body's Grace'. I trust his deeply catholic and apostolic provenance, not just his natural intelligence.

Anonymous said...

"Some of us have to live with our imperfections which don't allow us to pronounce dogmatically the validity of other people's 'insights' - we have enough trouble with our own."

Oh Ron, Ron, Ron! Go back and read all the posts you've written about James and me! The words 'pots' and 'kettles' come to mind.

Williams' 1989 essay "The Body's Grace" is not "catholic theology" (by any historical or dogmatic definition of "catholic") and it has not stood the test of time. Trust me - I was raised a Catholic and I know what the pope and the patriarch of Constantinople would say about it.
Peter "Palaiologos"

Bryden Black said...

Dear Ron,

If you were only to actually read those two texts I mentioned, then you might agree - for it’s not rocket science - Greer has his historical ‘readings’ of the history of theology more on the button than the contemporary “shibboleth” as it’s being currently played out. Please refrain from shooting from the hip/lip; it helps to sight the target generally, rather than spray lead around.

James said...


The more I think about this ... the more I'm thinking about our two "magnets" - the sex magnet and the church management magnet - questions: "Who do I get to have sex with, & how?" and: "Who gets to be the boss of the church & how - e.g., do they get to kick people out or tell them what they gotta say?"

It's very common in web interaction for conversation threads to get "derailed." I'd suggest that in pondering Christology, in the first stages of reflection and your first posts - that the questions of application to sex (and "inclusion") and bossing the church (and kicking people out) remain only on the distant, distant horizon ... while first dwelling on Christ and reason ... and then only later Christ and His church (but still then, with sex and church bossing far from the foreground).

I'm thinking: perhaps you could write a post / open a thread having to do with both of these - and encourage commenters on your Christology posts, if they want to talk about inclusion, discrimination, bad bishops doing nasty things, people wanting to kick other groups of people out etc. ... that they choose to post the comment either in the thread dedicated to sexuality or ecclesiology.

Finally, "pastoral theology" is also one of my "hobby-horses" - the basic notion, "It doesn't help much in saying the creeds and liturgy if we teach people that the word "Jesus" means: mascot for various excellent ethical and political causes, and "God" means: practically anything they want it to mean. And acknowledging: Faith in who Christ is, as a person, is incredibly important for our laypeople and clergy - and if we do not have that, or are teaching persons to abandon this, we must draw serious conclusions about "what we are."

However, even this issue can act as an unhealthy magnet of thought and discourse, as I find in how it "orders" my own thoughts at times in ways that are less than godly.

My thoughts are: though it would be lovely to see this issue raised, it should probably come near the end, with your thoughts in the beginning not conditioned too much by it.

Thanks so much for doing this.

James said...

I should note - I have quite a lot to do in the next week or two, so will likely be popping by a good deal less, unfortunately I'll be missing a lot of your discussion on Christology.

But you all are still in my prayers.


Peter Carrell said...

All the best, James; and thank you for the prayers.

Bryden Black said...

Cya James! Thanks for the careful participation. It helps of course that I agree on your desire for an absolute focus upon Christology. I have never quite understood why some want to use the name of Christ for a cause that is less than fully Trinitarian. For either the Word is seen to inhere in the very Being of God, resulting in the communication of genuine knowledge of the Creator and the availability of real ‘redemption’ - or we humans are thrown back upon ourselves ... In which latter case - Nietzsche is correct, and the Übermensch wins! Blessings!

James said...

Thanks, Peter and Bryden.

I must admit: I sometimes feel like my head is splitting with this situation of Christology being ignored in the Communion while we're being drawn into rather repetitive and polarizing discourse by the sex magnet and the church bossing magnet. I'm someone who tends to see "the church" as my home before my physical surroundings - so I tend to want to repair the roof of the church before I do my own roof, which of course means I get wet.

Please keep me in prayers, that my anxiety is relieved and I can do work in peace, and that God sharpens my vision of what He wants me to do, and where.

And another prayer:

I seriously think that since we have Jefferts-Schori and Trisk in the ACC, it's clear we as a Communion are no longer Trinitarian in practice (though Trinitarian Christianity still remains our stated aim via the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral). This may sound very "controversial," but I think it's by no means radical: that we need to ask the Communion to enter a period of reflection and / or repentance regarding what we "are." And that in our respect of other Trinitarian churches who are Trinitarian in practice, and are clear of their desire to remain so: issue warnings about our thorough-going discrepancy between our stated aims and practice - perhaps unilaterally breaking off ecumenical and communion relations, in recognition of the pain and possible contention this could cause amongst themselves - until such a time as we've either repented, or better formulated what we are.

This could be controversial because of the many "traditionalists" of all stripes amongst us, who for their own reasons like associations with Trinitarian Christianity and the other Trinitarian churches.

But a central tenet of Trinitarian Christianity is that ecclesiology follows theology, and not vice-versa; we worship and serve God, and by this act are the church - we do not "create" God by our deliberations. If we are intent upon maintaining persons in our highest ranks of leadership who advocate non-Trinitarian Jesus following, we are also not honoring these persons, their beliefs, nor the condition of their faith - nor the teachings of many in the Communion - if we pretend to be (as a body, corporately) Trinitarian Christian in practice (though doubtless most of us still are individually, in many ways, Trinitarian Christians in practice).

So though the many consequences of this would most definitely be quite controversial, the act is not radical and shouldn't be controversial in any way - it's simply honest acknowledgement of what we are, and an act of respect to those we have considered as friends and of their own faith. We may be "right" and justified in what we do - but Trinitarian Christianity is exoteric and not esoteric, and we shouldn't be attempting to "convert" them by pretending to practice the same religion - this is, in the ethics of coversion, something which produces the very highest form of inter-religious conflict and violence. Even if some of us believe that this still should be classified as Trinitarian Christianity - this is not our decision to make. And I do think we all still believe: "blessed are the peacemakers."

James said...

In the "Fundamentalist controversy" in the Presbyterian Church in the US at the beginning of the 20th century, one of the great problems was finger-pointing and isolationism. "You" bad people are doing these bad things, either "you" get out, or "we" leave. Polarities arose, followed by teaching much more problematic than simply (at the beginning of the crisis) the ordination of two new clergymen who did not believe in the virgin birth.

There are quite a few ways that our own crisis reflects theirs, but of course, with many differences.

What this "fundamentalist" approach fails to appreciate: both "conservatives" and "liberals" here are implicated in some kind of systemic disorder in the church. The "conservatives" somehow did not help the "liberals" maintain faith in those basic things they considered necessary for the faith of clergy. The "liberals" were alienated from the "conservatives" - and thus the "conservatives" had somehow failed in their task within the church - just as "the liberals" have their own task within the church. Perhaps part of the problem was the polarization itself - with "conservative" and "liberal" congregations, some with little concern about social justice - others with little concern about the identity of Christ.

At Dromantine, our Primates did acknowledge that there is an ecclesial defecit - with "liberals" and "conservatives" together.

Had the PCUSA simply made clear: "We are a church in crisis; we are a rent body, fracturing the rest of the body of Christ; it is not clear that we are following God as we should" - and in acknowledgment of this crisis, renounced the gift of ecumenical relations with its presupposition of a church amongst equals - and instead, called upon the surrounding Trinitarian churches to help examine it, teach it, lovingly rebuke it - it is entirely possible that this great American polarization would never have occurred - with Christians of various gifts intermingling in all churches, instead of "conservatives" and "liberals" flocking into little anemic polarized bodies with their attendant disorders.

It may be the burden of Anglicans to prevent a further polarizing of the body of Christ universal (and from a Trinitarian perspective, blighting the faith of potentially millions) by publicly acknowledging our brokenness and the seriousness with which we are denying the most basic tenets of Trinitarian Christology; and asking ourselves, "what do we want to be?" - but engaging in such reflection only after having made very, very publicly clear that we acknowledging that we aren't Trinitarian in practice - and that we might wish to learn from other churches, but they must most certainly not listen to us as authorities of their own religion. For if we don't - the seeds of Fundamentalism - the worst form of anxiety, reactionary behavior, and rigid adherence to narrow points of adiaphora will surely spread through world Christianity - as we pretend that non-Trinitarian Christology must have an "equal voice" in some form of "listening process" as we have so far had with the awful, polarizing disaster of the sex debate. And of course, in such a polarization - the LGBT people of the world will be amongst those most hurt.

I do hope that anyone who has a basic notion of what "fundamentalism" is and has worked with "fundamentalists" can see this.

So prayers for the Communion and for Anglicans weighing how they should follow Christ in this situation.

Father Ron Smith said...

And in the end - God will continue to be God - unaided (and unfazed) by the speculation of even our most devoted and learned theological speculators and practitioners.

Let us sincerely worship God, with all our heart, soul, mind and body - rather than just discussing God - in Trinity! Let God be God!
Deo Gratias!

Bryden Black said...

Indeed Ron; the Lord God of Hosts is ever I AM

Yet, the curious, even bizzare, thing is that we humans are called into fellowship with this God, the God and Father of Messiah and Son, Jesus - and not another. And it wld appear, in Jn 4 at least, that there are due implications as to what constitutes both that fellowship and that worship therefore. The Samaritan lady, while eventually getting there, shows we may have inadequate, even faulty means of worship. And when Jesus says, “We worship what we know” (a text beloved of the Patristics) - the floodgates of light and love are duly opened: but only in Spirit and Truth, both given by this One from his own well.

So; my bottom line here is: while God is ever God, he asks us to draw near ONLY in the Way brought about by God’s own very self. I guess we’d better be care-ful to find and stick to that Way, if only out of Honour to God alone!